- What does it mean to be an employee-at-will?
The general rule in Missouri is that unless you have a contract for a specified duration, you are considered to be an employee-at-will. That means that your employer can fire you for any reason, as long as the reason is not illegal, and cannot be held liable for wrongful discharge. Under the employment-at-will doctrine, your employer can fire you at any time even if your performance has been exemplary and even if your employer has not given you any prior warnings. In addition, your employer is not required to give you any notice before firing you. As an at-will employee, you are free to quit your employment at any time and are not required to give your employer any notice before you quit.
There are exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. For example, even if you are an at-will employee, your employer cannot fire you for certain reasons, such as reporting illegal conduct by your employer, refusing to perform an illegal act, filing a workers’ compensation claim, serving on a jury, or seeking public office.
- Is my employer required to give a reason for firing me?
If you are an at-will employee, your employer is not required to give a reason for firing you at the time you are fired. However, under Missouri law, if you were employed by a company that has seven or more employees and you worked for the company for at least 90 days, you may request a letter from the company stating the reason you were fired and the company is required to provide such a letter. This type of letter is commonly referred to as a “service letter.” You must request a service letter within a reasonable period of time, but no later than one year, after the date of your termination.
- How long does my employer have to give me my final paycheck after I have been fired?
In Missouri, all unpaid wages become due at the time you are fired, unless your pay is based primarily on commissions and your duties include collection of accounts, care of a stock or merchandise and similar activities, and where an audit is necessary or customary in order to determine the net amount due. After you are fired, you may request in writing that your employer pay you all unpaid wages, and your employer is required to pay the wages within seven days from the date of your request.
- Can my employer deduct money from my paycheck for shortages that occurred during my shift?
Your employer may deduct money from your wages for things such as cash register shortages and damages to equipment or uniforms, as long as the deductions do not reduce your compensation below the minimum wage. Your employer is not required to obtain your permission before making these deductions.
- Do I have the right to see my personnel file?
In Missouri, personnel files are considered property of your employer, and your employer is not required to allow you to see what is in your personnel file or give you copies of your personnel records.
- Are non-compete agreements enforceable in Missouri?
Non-compete agreements in Missouri are enforceable as long as they are necessary to protect legitimate interests of the employer and are reasonable in terms of the time period and geographic area that they cover. Two types of protectible interests that have been recognized by Missouri courts as being valid bases for non-compete agreements are customer contacts and trade secrets. Whether the time period and geographic area that an agreement covers are reasonable depends upon the facts of each particular case. If a court finds that an agreement is too broad, the court has the power to modify the agreement to the extent necessary to make it reasonable.
- Which employers are covered by anti-discrimination laws?
Some anti-discrimination laws, such as the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1866, apply to virtually all employers. Other laws apply only to certain employers. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to employers with 15 or more employees, employment agencies, and labor organizations. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to employers with 20 or more employees, employment agencies, and labor organizations. The Missouri Human Rights Act applies to employers with six or more employees within the State of Missouri, employment agencies, and labor organizations.
- How do I prove that I have been a victim of discrimination?
Proving discrimination is not always easy, but there are certain types of evidence that are often helpful. This evidence includes disparaging remarks or comments indicating bias toward a particular group, less favorable treatment than similarly-situated employees outside a protected classification, false or inconsistent reasons given by an employer for a particular employment decision, an employer’s failure to follow its own policies and procedures, and statistics. These are not the only types of evidence that can be used to prove discrimination, but they are the most common.
- What should I do if I believe that I have been a victim of discrimination?
Before you can file a lawsuit against your employer under most federal anti-discrimination laws, you must file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC is the federal agency that is responsible for investigating alleged violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Pay Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under all of these laws, except the Equal Pay Act, you must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC before you can file a lawsuit in court. Most states have similar agencies that are responsible for investigating alleged violations of state anti-discrimination laws.
In Missouri, an employee who believes that he or she has been discriminated against in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act may file a charge of discrimination with the Missouri Commission on Human Rights (MCHR). When you file a charge of discrimination with the MCHR, and the alleged violation is also covered by federal law, the charge of discrimination is also considered to be filed with the EEOC. Likewise, when you file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC, and the alleged violation is also covered by the Missouri Human Rights Act, the charge of discrimination is also considered to be filed with the MCHR.
- What is the time limit for filing a charge of discrimination?
To proceed with a discrimination claim under the Missouri Human Rights Act, you must file a charge of discrimination within 180 days from the date of the alleged discriminatory action. If you are close to the deadline for filing a charge of discrimination, you should immediately contact the EEOC or the MCHR to preserve your rights.
- What remedies are available to me if I prove that I have been a victim of discrimination?
If you prove that you have been a victim of discrimination, there are a variety of remedies that are potentially available to you. These remedies include lost wages and benefits, hiring, reinstatement to your former job or promotion to a job which you were denied because of unlawful discrimination, and future economic losses. You may also receive compensation for emotional distress, such as embarrassment, humiliation, and mental anguish, caused by the unlawful discrimination. In some cases, if your employer has engaged in particularly egregious conduct, you may receive an award of punitive damages. In addition, if you prevail in a lawsuit against your employer, the court may require your employer to reimburse you for attorneys’ fees and court costs.
- What should I do if I believe that I am being unlawfully harassed?
If you believe that you are being unlawfully harassed, you should make sure that your employer knows about the harassment. Most employers have specific procedures that employees should follow for reporting complaints of harassment. If you have an employee handbook, you should review the handbook and follow the procedures that your employer has provided. If your employer does not have any specific procedures for reporting complaints of harassment, you should bring your complaint to the attention of a management employee or human resources representative. Although your complaint may be verbal, it is a good idea to make a written complaint and keep a copy of the complaint for your records.
- What obligations does my employer have if I complain about harassment?
Once you complain to your employer about harassment, your employer has a legal duty to take prompt remedial action to end the harassment. To determine what type of remedial action is appropriate, your employer should conduct an investigation into your allegations, which should include speaking to the harasser and any witnesses to the harassment. Your employer’s actions must be reasonably calculated to end the harassment. Warnings, disciplinary actions, and terminations are means by which employers can end harassing behavior.